No Pots To Clean Gourmet Dinner

At our annual Cape Cod family vacation, I am responsible for serving the annual Fish Dinner for 10-15 people (there is also the annual Steak Dinner and the annual Lobster & Ribs Dinner, hosted by my brothers-in-law along with, The-Night-Everyone-Arrives-Baked-Ziti-Dinner my now 90-year-old mother-in-law whips up.)

Let’s be clear. Cooking for a very large group in an ill-equipped ‘cottage’ kitchen and serving it as a sit-down dinner in a too-small dining room is NO VACATION. It’s actually a potential nightmare. But it’s what we do. Every year. And once dinner’s on the table, it’s a blast… Plus, my wine-collector brother-in-law brings a LOT of wine so that’s, um, great. (I make sure to finish with all knife skills before imbibing – that’s another story that ends at the hospital).

Anyway, we’ve been doing this for years, but last Thursday I faced a fish dinner crisis: the only feasible date was our last night at the Cape – and we had to pack up our rental house and be on the road by 7:30 the next morning. I tried for a fish dinner hiatus. No dice (a huge compliment yet also frustrating). So I agreed to with one condition: I would cook but I would NOT host 12 people in the rental house that we were in the midst of packing up.

Once that was swiftly agreed upon, I had to devise a dinner plan. Usually my goal is a new variation on fish everyone will like. This year, my goal was: how to cook a full dinner for 12 with very little clean up. Like, none. Else we’d never finish packing and get out on time.

The answer: I devised a menu that required NO pots. Thus no clean up, and no ferrying pots, pans and serving utensils to and fro.

Amazingly, it was a huge success – both the cooking and the quick clean-up… but also, the dinner itself. There were actual accolades! My mother-in-law declared it, “your best fish dinner ever,” and someone dubbed it, “totally gourmet.” There were no leftovers and literally, we had NOTHING to clean up – all we had to do was load the plates and cutlery into the dishwasher. Oh, and the very many wine glasses.

The trick: a dinner plan that relied on heavy duty aluminum foil on the grill, sequential cook times, and ‘sauces’ prepared in advance.

Here’s what I prepared:

  • 2.5 pounds of Arctic Char and 1.5 pounds of Haddock that I prepped with olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs, slivered onions and halved cherry tomatoes: grilled in foil and served with two homemade sauces (really, dressings): Green Goddess and Mustard Vinaigrette.  I thought folks would enjoy trying two very different types of fish, which they did. And surprisingly, my favorite, Arctic Char, was the big winner! (See Lo-Co Recipe page for other fish/Arctic Char recipes!)
  • The fantastic “Grilled Potato and Onion Packages” recipe I found on epicurious.
  • Asparagus we grilled in the afternoon and served at room temperature.

IMG_2695Cooking fish in foil on a grill is dead-easy. All you do is place a fish fillet in foil (skin-side down, if it has skin), slick it both sides with olive oil, add salt and pepper and any fresh herbs you like (I used chives, thyme and rosemary). Atop that, squeeze some lemons and place some very thinly sliced lemon along with very thinly sliced onion and halved cherry tomatoes. The only truly ‘obligatory’ ingredient is olive oil and some lemon – but it makes a nice presentation with all these items! Then wrap it TIGHTLY in foil (I double wrapped it) and grill over medium-high or high heat for 10 minutes — longer if it’s a thick fillet. We needed 15-20 minutes for the 3 wrapped fillets. Take them off the grill and transfer to a serving platter – I removed the onion and lemon slices, but placed the tomatoes back on top for a pretty presentation. I like my fish plain but feared others would not, so I served the fish with choice of a Mustard Vinaigrette (David Tanis’ recipe on my Lo-Co Recipe page) and a Green Goddess dressing/dip mix from Penzey’s Spices that I had whipped up in minutes that morning.

The other element we needed to grill at my brother-in-law’s rental home was the phenomenal “Grilled Potato and Onion Packages” recipe I found on epicurious. Read the recipe and reviews online, or recipe PDF is here and also on my Lo-Co Recipes page. These, my husband and I prepped in the afternoon, then brought over 11 packages all ready to go on the grill!  While they’re meant to be served individually I just opened all 11 packages into a large serving bowl – either way is great.  A few notes from my read of the reviews and my experience making this fabulous and fabulously easy recipe:

  • I used baby red potatoes that I washed and left skins on – and cut into small pieces (like eighths!) so they’d cook quickly enough.
  • Instead of white, I used red onions – again cut into very thin slices – about same size as potatoes.
  • Use heavy duty foil – there’s a size that’s the right width the recipe calls for. 
  • Move the packets every 5-7 minutes or so – maybe 3 times for the 30 minutes – but don’t flip them – goal is to move so that no one spot gets too hot and burns.
  • It’s very easy BUT takes time to cut the potatoes and onions – leave plenty of time for all the slicing!
  • Even if you hate mustard, you won’t taste it here… and if you LOVE mustard, you need to increase the amount used.

The whole dinner took 1 hour to cook at my brother-in-law’s rental home (though a few hours to prep — and we did grill asparagus (see below for how) at home first and served it room temperature.) 

Once we landed at my brother-in-law’s I prepped the fish while my husband grilled the potato packets. In the end, it looked like this:

IMG_2698

 

 

IMG_2697Two notes on the finished dishes:

  • The fish fell apart, which doesn’t happen when you bake or cook fish directly on the grill. But it’s juicy and tender, and if you have enough wine, no one will notice.
  • The potato & onion dish looked much more appealing than this photo; I’d had a few glasses of wine by then…

Hope you try!  So easy and healthy and delicious – and no pots to wash!

To grill asparagus: soak for 10 minutes and snap off the tough bottoms, loosely dry, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and put right onto a medium-high grill for about 10-15 minutes, rolling them to grill evenly.

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Honey Dijon Arctic Char

Last week, I got some bad news which I’m hoping I can turn into good news.

The bad news: my cholesterol has hit a personal high of 267 but more concerning, my triglycerides skyrocketed to 253 (‘goal’ is lower than 150 … and in the 10 lab results I’ve tracked since 2002 my triglycerides have NEVER been over 200.)

Also, I now have some “mild kidney insufficiency” which may be related to what’s driving my triglycerides sky-high: a) a diet too high in sugar, carbs and alcohol; and b) not enough exercise.

It’s this – the poor diet and exercise – that I’m hoping I can turn into good news. Which I may be able to, because when I really considered my actions over the past few months I was appalled. In fact, I was surprised and chagrined to realize that since my October 2015 knee surgery I’ve not jumped back onto my near-daily exercise routine (not even close) … and am binge/stress eating chocolate…and wine. Oh, and my new favorite starch, baked sweet potatoes, is probably not helping.

More on the high triglycerides and kidney problem in a more medically-focused post (once I do a bit more research and discuss more fully with my doctor.) With my medical questions stressing me out and wine not the right choice, I decided on Saturday to start righting the medical ship with a lo-co recipe review.

So we went grocery shopping over the weekend and yesterday I made the only salad dressing I like (mustard vinaigrette a la David Tanis – see my love salad post or see recipe below). Then my husband and I grilled bok choy, baked brussels sprouts, and steamed green beans so we have vegetables to easily toss into dinners this week. He then grilled a steak (I know, right?) while I made a new fish recipe that was AMAZING and so very easy: Honey Dijon Arctic Char.

HoneyDijonArcticCharThis fish recipe is a snap – as for the fish itself, if you prefer salmon go for it: both salmon and char are ‘meaty’ fish so they hold up well on the grill. I whipped up the marinade in five minutes and let it absorb on a plate for just 20 minutes instead of 30. We (OK, my husband) grilled it skin side down on medium heat for 5 minutes, and it was an easy flip for another 2-3 minutes for perfectly cooked fish. As you can see, I served it with low-glycemic quinoa (instead of the baked sweet potato that’s been my go to side for the past six months) and baked brussels sprouts and string beans.  Plus ONE glass of wine (I wanted two but…)

Having never made this before AND despising honey, I wasn’t sure I’d like this so I didn’t bother measuring the ingredients. Thus, I was absolutely astonished at how tasty this was. Click the link for recipe details (and for ingredients for 4), which I’ve cut roughly in half, and summarized here:

Honey Dijon Arctic Char / Salmon: for 2-3 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 large filet of arctic char or salmon, skin on – about 3/4 pound (for 2-3 people, or to have leftovers!)
  • 1/8 cup dijon mustard (I didn’t really measure this)
  • 1/8 cup honey (or this)
  • 1 TB extra virgin olive oil (or this)
  • 2 cloves of garlic – supposed to be minced, I put through garlic press
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (again, no measuring)
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper (didn’t measure, used black pepper)
  • juice of half lemon (plus more for serving, if desired)

Directions:

  • Combine mustard, honey, oil, garlic, thyme, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Using a spoon, coat fillet (both sides) with mixture (if not enough for skin, just throw some olive oil under it). Cover dish with plastic wrap and place into refrigerator for 30 minutes (I just let it sit on counter instead for 20 minutes).
  • On grill pre-heated to about medium, place fish, skin side down (on a fish screen) and cook for 5 minutes. Carefully, turn fish and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes. (It’ll  be done – you can tell it is if the flesh of the fish no longer appears shiny and flakes easily). Remove from grill and serve – with a little extra lemon juice if desired.

Thank you to Derrick Riches on bbq.about.com for the recipe and inspiration. I cannot WAIT to have this fish again tonight. And maybe again for lunch tomorrow – in a salad with my homemade mustard vinaigrette – recipe again here:

Mustard Vinaigrette a la David Tanis– for a TRIPLE recipe: 2 TB Dijon mustard, 6 TB Sherry Vinegar, some finely grated garlic (I use 2 cloves – the recipe asks for 1 1/2 teaspoons) and 9 TB EVOO, salt and pepper to taste. To make: whisk together mustard, vinegar and garlic. Whisk in olive oil. Season with salt & pepper.  Pour into carafe and refrigerate.

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How To Calculate Nutritional Value For Any Recipe

Wondering about the nutritional value and/or calories of a favorite recipe? It’s one of my pet peeves about cookbooks and interesting recipes found online or in a newspaper or magazine – the recipes rarely list the calories and key nutritional info (like fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar, etc) included per serving.

Well, wonder no more.

I’ve written multiple posts about the fabulous app, My Fitness Pal (I Heart My Fitness PalI Love Me Some Nutrition Graphs; and Better Than Salad at Wendy’s to name a few) but I just discovered an update to their site that enables you to quickly and easily – using copy/paste – import recipes and see their nutritional value.

The basic ability to input recipe ingredients and calculate the nutritional value – and save the recipe into My Fitness Pal so you can use it to track your calories/nutritional intake – is not new. But they’ve now made it far faster and easier by adding the ability to copy/paste recipe ingredients rather than enter each one manually. But wait, there’s more!  Their recipe importer stops the guesswork – for example, it automatically translated ‘1 medium onion’ into 1/2 cup onion – an equivalency I always just guessed at before (um, even when cooking).

To me, this is miraculous. (OK, OK, I know, I need to ‘get a life.’)  But I heart technology, what can I say.

Now calculating the full nutritional value of any recipe is so, so simple.  Just login to your My Fitness Pal account on your PC or Mac, and under the ‘Food’ tab, click ‘Recipes.’  That brings up the Recipe Importer – importing from a URL didn’t work for me, but right underneath that, just click on ‘Add Recipe Manually.’  Then copy/paste your ingredients into the box, name the recipe, adjust the # of servings, and click the green ‘match ingredients’ button under the input box.  Either all your ingredients will either magically match – or if there are any issues, it’ll point them out for you to adjust manually.

Then save it and it appears in your ‘recipe box.’  To see the nutritional value, just click the recipe title in your recipe box and this is what appears (this is the nutritional value of my favorite homemade salad dressing: Mustard Vinaigrette):

Mustard Vinaigrette

 

I tried  out My Fitness Pal’s new copy/paste recipe importer for this 5 ingredient mustard vinaigrette and ALSO for a more complicated recipe.  I’ll write about that recipe, Risi E Bisi, separately – but the recipe importer worked beautifully for both a very simple recipe like this vinaigrette and a more typically complex dinner recipe.

So if you are ever in need of nutritional value of a meal at a fast food place OR a side dish you’re making or even a full recipe, check out My Fitness Pal.  My husband and I (and several friends) have found it a tremendously easy-to-use and very helpful way to pay attention to what you’re eating – for both calorie counting/losing weight and also for tracking cholesterol and fat (or any other nutritional value) of a recipe or meal out.

Note: I am in NO WAY associated with My Fitness Pal. Though LOL,  I think I need to contact them about putting an ad on my blog…

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Erasing Onion Rings with Salad

Every summer, we rent a house in Cape Cod for a week for a family reunion with my husband’s family.  With a whole family of foodies, our traditions run the food gamut from the very NOT lo-co joy of Liam’s onion rings (must be scored within 24 hours of arriving on Cape) and the Chocolate Sparrow (thank goodness they do not exist at home) to the also-not-lo-co family dinners we take turns hosting.

There are now 3 home-hosted family dinners in one week:  first is the lobster & rib dinner at my in-laws (one brother-in-law has ribs flown in from Montgomery’s in Cincinnati – no idea how that started… the lobsters are of course local).  Then there’s the porterhouse & tenderloin steak dinner at my other brother-in-law’s rental home.  My husband and I added the vaguely more healthful “fish dinner” a few years ago at our rental home (not even going to comment on how not a vacation it is to host a dinner for 10-12 in a rental house). And I refer to our fish dinner as only vaguely heathy even though we served fish, grilled veggies, cous cous and salad because, well, there’s a great deal of cheese and pepperoni at cocktail hour, and the amount of vodka and wine consumed (there’s usually a card game after dinner) can reach epic proportions.

Oh, and then there are more onion rings at lunch on the beach.  In fact, the onion rings at Nauset Beach’s snack shack, Liam’s, are so amazing I usually have them at least 3 times in one week.  And Liam’s – like Gold’s Deli in my home town — is in my speed dial.

Embarrassing, I know.

So this year, I decided to try to have some salad (gasp) during the week to offset the effect of huge family dinners, too much drinking and the deadly, delicious onion rings.

I remembered to bring BOTH my new favorite salad dressing recipe AND the cruet AND a bottle of sherry vinegar with us to Cape Cod.  The first night here, as part of the lobster & rib dinner, I made salad (we usually don’t have any greens that first night!)  And everyone LOVED the dressing.

Salad Cape CodSo I had to make a new batch of it the next day so I could have some salad for lunch or dinner at home (when I wasn’t inhaling onion rings).  See, proof: here’s a picture of a salad I made for dinner the day after the lobster/rib dinner — this picture was moments before I added some warmed rib meat for protein!

And let’s just pretend that bleu cheese is not there…

My 85 year old mother-in-law even asked for the recipe.  And that NEVER happens.

When I sat at my in-law’s PC and tried to print the mustard vinaigrette recipe from my “How I learned…to love salad” post, I realized I never posted it in an accessible, recipe format – that I only posted the link to the New York Times article David Tanis wrote about this salad.  So here it is: the recipe for the first salad dressing that is so delicious (and easy) that I even made it while on vacation:

For a triple recipe – enough for a dinner party or salad all week:

  • 2 Tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 6 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • some finely grated garlic (I use 2 cloves – the recipe asks for 1 1/2 teaspoons) and
  • 9 Tablespooons EVOO
  • Salt and pepper to taste

As David Tanis advises, “Whisk together mustard, vinegar and garlic. Whisk in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.”  Then I just pour into a cruet and store in my refrigerator.

Voila.  A healthy meal to counter the effects of too many rich meals and, um, onion rings.

Because that works, right?

Ha.

Oh well, no worries – vacation ends tomorrow.

 

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